One of the most important things about the book is the context in which it was released:
- The financial crisis had reached dangerous levels towards the end of 2008.
- Bill's book is about "leading in crisis", and was published in 2009.
- Bill served on the board of Goldman-Sachs during the crisis.
- The book contains numerous examples of leadership behavior (both good and bad), some of which occurred during the current financial crisis.
The book suggests a list of seven leadership qualities that can be applied to any type of crisis. Bill sprinkles a variety of examples throughout the book.
I was mainly drawn to the book by Bill's position on the board of Goldman Sachs. In this sense he had a front row seat to the crisis. How often does someone in his position also have the writing skills to communicate what went wrong on such a massive scale? I was hoping that the book would contain the same frankness and openness that Bill uses on both his own blog and as a NY Times blogger (in which his transparency leads to some lively debate).
I was not disappointed in this regard. Bill pointed at several different banks that went under during the financial crisis and called out examples of poor leadership. During the pages of the book he did not pull any punches; this was the type of frankness I was hoping for.
Overall Thoughts on the Book
At just over 100 pages, the book is a quick read. The seven different leadership qualities that Bill covers seem to me to be common sense: don't take the world upon your shoulders, get ready for the long haul, dig deep for the root cause, etc. (For a quick summary of each category, I refer the reader to Jessica Lipnack's book review here).
I don't believe that Bill's seven tenets of crisis leadership are revelatory. From that point of view, I don't believe that I learned significantly new techniques for leading during a crisis.
I find the book's main value is that of a yardstick. If I want to evaluate my own leadership skills during a crisis, the book is an excellent place to turn. If I want to evaluate a public official, or a corporate executive, and formulate a thoughtful opinion of their performance during a crisis, I would refer to this book.
One particular chapter resonated the most for me: Lesson #3 - Dig Deep for the Root Cause. The advice that Bill gives in this chapter had a strong synergy with my write-up of Bill's speech from the World Business Forum. Leaders need to spend at least some time in the trenches. Here are a couple of gems from the book:
- Morgan Stanley CEO Philip Purcell didn't spend enough time on the trading floor talking to the traders when his firm was going through a myriad of problems in 2004 (he should have)
- Maintain close contact with people throughout your organization, not just your direct reports.
- Visit customers when they are in crisis (Bill had one angry customer throw medical equipment at him)
- Wander through the corporate offices and labs and ask the employees what they think the company needs to do to improve.
Overall I enjoyed the unique point of view on the financial crisis, as well as the framework for evaluating leadership. It's a good reference book to keep handy during tough times.